Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has requested extensive records from the White House for his Russia investigation, The Post's Carol D. Leonnig and Rosalind S. Helderman are reporting. The request includes 13 categories that are seen as key to the probe.
And for many of those, President Trump and the White House have nobody to blame but themselves.
The list of categories from Mueller reads like a greatest hits of the Trump team's missteps. Even if you believe many of their actions were in the service of covering something up — or some other purpose — several things the White House has done to draw Mueller's attention have no logical explanation, other than sloppiness.
Among the things Mueller is looking into that Leonnig and Helderman listed:
- The January FBI interview of then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who assumed that post despite his lobbying work being under Justice Department investigation and despite having discussed sanctions with then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
- Meetings between Trump and then-FBI Director James B. Comey, at which Comey says Trump pressured him to pledge loyalty.
- Then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer's explanation of Comey's firing. (Trump would thoroughly contradict Spicer's statements just two days later.)
- The Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and another top Russian official in which Trump said firing Comey had taken “great pressure” off him.
- The White House's responses to the publication of Donald Trump Jr.'s June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer, which shifted several times and was later revealed, contrary to denials from Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, to have included the president crafting his son's response.
The common thread here is that all of these things were more dramatic than they needed to be. The White House badly mishandled the Flynn situation, its explanations for Comey's firing and its responses to Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya. In none of those cases did it seem to have a game plan that it stuck to, and it wound up contradicting itself each time, raising even more suspicions.
Trump's decision to ask for loyalty from Comey also turned out to be a rather poor one. Comey clearly wasn't ready to provide it, and it's now one of Mueller's focuses, too — a key piece of evidence, perhaps, in the obstruction-of-justice investigation.
The Oval Office meeting with Kislyak and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, may take the cake as far as unforced errors. It was the day after Trump fired Comey, and the decision to meet with Russians at that time and in that context was bad enough. Then Trump decides he's going to tell the country whose ties to him are under investigation that he is relieved to have removed the man leading that investigation?
Given Trump's shocking 2016 win, his unusual behavior and his norm-shattering presidency, there is a tendency to believe that the things he does are somehow calculated — calculated to evoke reactions from the media or to distract from certain things. His and his team's conduct amid the Russia investigation, though, suggests that this has largely been a seat-of-their-pants operation, and it has been speckled with unnecessary events that have drawn the watchful eye of a special counsel with an increasingly broad and serious investigation into the president of the United States.
We don't know where this will lead, but if it does somehow take down a president, that president will have himself to blame for making Mueller's job easier than it needed to be.